Nearly three dozen artists and celebrities from Brazil, the United States, and the United Kingdom signed an open letter Tuesday urging U.S. President Joe Biden not to cut any bilateral deals on the Amazon rainforest with his Brazilian counterpart Jair Bolsonaro, whose policies have fueled a major surge in deforestation over the past two years.
“It’s impossible to protect the forest by giving funds to someone responsible for record levels of Amazon deforestation and human rights violations.”
—Fabiana Alves, Greenpeace Brazil
The artists’ letter (pdf) expresses solidarity with Brazilian civil society groups and Indigenous leaders who have been fighting Bolsonaro’s destruction of the Amazon and demands that the U.S. president “hear their call and not commit to any agreements with Brazil at this time.”
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“We share your concerns that urgent action must be taken to address threats to the Amazon, our climate, and human rights, but a deal with Bolsonaro is not the solution,” the coalition wrote. “We urge you to continue dialogue with civil society, subnational governments, Indigenous, and forest peoples of the Amazon basin who have solutions and have developed proposals for your consideration, including the Amazon Climate Platform, before announcing any commitments or releasing any funds.”
The letter was signed by Brazilian singer Fernanda Abreu, Brazilian actress Andrea Beltrão, U.S. actress and activist Jane Fonda, and more than 30 others.
The artists’ call comes as the Biden administration is reportedly in the process of negotiating a multi-billion dollar climate deal with the Bolsonaro government, despite warnings from Brazilian advocacy groups and state governors that Bolsonaro cannot be trusted to uphold any commitment to protect the Amazon—a key carbon sink that has been under assault by commercial interests for years.
“He won’t even try,” João Doria, the governor of São Paulo, said in an interview with TIME. “Bolsonaro has demonstrated a total disregard for the environmental agenda and he hasn’t done anything to suggest he has any intention of changing his behavior.”
Joenia Wapichana, the only indigenous member of Brazil’s Congress, told TIME that she is “very afraid of what will happen if they close a deal only with Bolsonaro’s government.”
“Bolsonaro has demonstrated a total disregard for the environmental agenda and he hasn’t done anything to suggest he has any intention of changing his behavior.”
—João Doria, governor of São Paulo
“We need to have a permanent dialogue with civil society and states,” Wapichana said. “Many in Brazil would say that unless Bolsonaro radically changes his policies on the Amazon, they shouldn’t make a deal.”
The Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday that the Brazilian government “has made an audacious offer to the Biden administration: Provide $1 billion and President Jair Bolsonaro’s administration will reduce deforestation by 40%.”
“Bolsonaro argues that the only way to save the jungle is through carbon credits and by financing sustainable economic activities so people can make a living from fish farming, cacao production, and other activities that don’t require the razing of trees,” the Journal noted. “The theme has been central to talks Brazil’s environment minister, Ricardo Salles, said he has had in recent weeks with Biden administration climate officials.”
The far-right Brazilian president is one of 40 world leaders Biden invited to take part in a virtual climate summit Thursday billed as an effort to “underscore the urgency—and the economic benefits—of stronger climate action.”
Fabiana Alves, climate and justice coordinator at Greenpeace Brazil, argued in a statement Wednesday that “it’s impossible to protect the forest by giving funds to someone responsible for record levels of Amazon deforestation and human rights violations, and it also risks giving fossil fuel companies an avenue for ‘offsetting’ their pollution.”
“President Biden must stop the deal with Bolsonaro,” said Alves. “The best way to protect the Amazon is to defend the rights of Indigenous Peoples and traditional communities, who are not being consulted and listened to by this government.”
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